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Letters: the public is as important as the politics for the ICE

The public is as important as the politics for the ICE

Antony Oliver’s comment last week criticised the ICE for asking the public what it wants in terms of investment in key public services and for not,instead, making enough noise about the collective view of its members.

ICE takes its remit to influence policy very seriously and has a strategic approach to ensuring we are at the heart of policy-making in the UK, through a wide-ranging programme of policy and public affairs activity and media engagement.

In preparation for the autumn Spending Review we have been working with Government to highlight where the most at risk areas are for public investment cuts.

Our recent State of the Nation report, a consolidation of the expert views of our highly skilled membership, was the culmination of this work. It outlined the condition and resilience of infrastructure across all sectors and regions and looked at vulnerability if faced with significant budget cuts.

Local roads were found to be one of the most at risk areas and the ICE’s quarterly public service survey supported this finding - enabling us to reiterate a crucial message about the state of the UK’s infrastructure from the public’s perspective as well as the engineers’ perspective.

The public are the biggest stakeholder in the UK’s infrastructure. Achieving a sustainable future will require mass attitudinal change and for this reason ICE believes engaging with, and informing the public is also a very important responsibility.

  • Professor Paul Jowitt, President, ICE, One Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AA

I am surprised and dismayed by the content contained in your recent “Comment” article (NCE last week).

Why initially spend time and money on a survey if your view is that the public should be ignored.

As someone who has spent their career working for consultants, contractors and corporations I find your analysis of our current situation woefully short of reality.

The words “sensible political” are often an oxymoron, yet senior members of the institution continue to earn fees by justifying the unjustifiable political solution.

Contractors keep building projects that fail any sensible economic return and should not be built while leading members of The Institution sit back without taking a view that could and should enlighten the politicians and public.

I fear it is not the public who are to blame and the findings of your survey should not have come as any surprise.

If we are to influence “political” decisions then we must as an institution have views based on sound economic returns, independent of the background of current Presidents.

This view, critical or otherwise should not be arrived at by simply applying the much discredited Cost Benefit Analysis but must analyse and prioritise national projects free from political influence.

  • John R T Carson (F), South Queensferry, Scotland,

I can understand Antony Oliver’s frustration with public opinion surveys (NCE last week) but it is a mistake to argue that opinion surveys are wasted effort.

Many engineers will have worked upon schemes that were less than popular with the public when they were launched.

Those who took the time and trouble to understand the depth and complexity of the opposition and then worked at public relations to improve the situation have often found that opinion can be transformed.

It isn’t easy or even guaranteed, that support can be garnered but ignoring public opinion, or worse dismissing it, is a recipe for scheme and professional reputational failure.

A key lesson from all of the Regeneration Partnerships, across the UK, in the past decade has been that the work put into consultation and community liaison has paid dividends beyond all expectations.

It is both a mistake and an arrogance to imagine that government has got to listen to us because ‘we know best’. The wider public may misunderstand the nature of the problem but they can’t all be dismissed as fools and charlatans. Managing public relations is an important as managing resources; we forget that at our peril.

  • Ian Jenkinson, (F), Newcastle under Lyme,

Editor’s note: For clarity, the public service survey referred to above was commissioned and funded by the Institution of Civil Engineers, not by New CivilEngineer magazine.

Busway guidance

In response to ‘Why are we wasting money on guided busways’ (NCE last week), Mr Fell asks ‘why can’t it simply be an asphalt route?’

Guidance allows the bus rapid transit (BRT) system to achieve ‘rail like’ precision level docking at stops. When combined with an ‘off-bus’ payment system, this grants rapid passenger entry and exit, thus reducing dwell times.

When running a high capacity and frequent system this is vital in maintaining reliability, without which, there is a loss of credibility with the customer and they return to their cars.

There are benefits of guided busways in terms of permanence and visibility of infrastructure investment, manifesting in increased levels of patronage.

In Cambridgeshire, the Great Ouse flood plain restricts widening of the existing embankment. The required width of an asphalt road would have created unacceptable loss to the flood plain storage volume.

Although the current reported overspend on the Cambridge scheme is disappointing for all, the construction of this particular guided busway still remains cheaper than any rail-based alternatives. The proposed reopening of the railway was proven to be uneconomic.

  • David Eve (M), Parsons Brinckerhoff Europe

Bring focus back to Birmingham

I read the NCE article ‘Rethinking Aviation’ in the hope that I might read something useful. But along with Arup’s unreadable ‘Aviation 2040’ wehave written nothing to move us on from the flawed 2003 airport strategy.

Whilst the South East, and its reliance on the hub airports for employment and economic growth feature large, there is no mention of Manchester and Birmingham in the considerations.

The whole process is focussed on justifying the country’s reliance on the SE to undertake long haul flights and a recommendation for a new airport in the SE!

A cursory examination of the map, indicates that there is no major airport between Heathrow and Manchester, thus travellers in the Midlands, and even further afield have to get to the south east or Manchester to join a long haul flight.

The alternative is to use connections to Schipol, Frankfurt or even Dubai.

The Government’s 2002 consultation recognised this by proposing a new airport at Rugby but this was discounted purely for parochial reasons.

Extending the runway at Birmingham remains the only reasonable short/medium term option.

This would reduce the load on Heathrow, in particular, by making long-haul flights available from the Midlands, all at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives.

  • Peter Styles, Kingsbury,

Do the sums for subsidies

Regarding Peter Hinson’s letter (NCE last week), the renewables obligation (RO) is a scheme whereby investors in renewable power can recouppart of their investment, over a period of 20 years.

The cost is passed to the consumer and it is an indirect subsidy for the manufacturers of the renewable technologies.

Assuming 30GW of wind capacity at a load factor of 0.3 and the 2009/10 RO buy out price of £37.19/MWh, the annual cost to the consumer is £2.93bn. If this created 100,000 UK jobs the subsidy per person employed would be £29,320 per year.

The justification is a reduction in the release to atmosphere of carbon dioxide and a reduction in imported fossil fuels. But, 30GW of wind capacity supplies 79TWh/yr, which is less than the 82TWh contributed by nuclear power in 2003.

If nuclear power continues to decline and is closed down then savings in carbon emissions compared to 2003 will be negative. Also, the variable nature of wind means that back up is required by conventional generating plant, some of which needs to be on standby, consuming fossil fuels.

Uneconomic usage of these machines means that not all the envisaged carbon dioxide savings will be realised. Wind power has its place but not in the form of large, industrial, scale wind farms. The most viable, economic, low carbon technology is nuclear power.

  • Denis Stephens (F),

Put wind power in its place

The recent correspondence relating to offshore wind ‘subsidy’ should be considered within the bigger picture. After a few years the so called ‘subsidy’ for offshore wind will have to reduce to about 4.5 pence per KWhr.The retail price of electricity is about 12 pence per KWhr so the extra cost of the ‘subsidy’ will be about 40%.

Offshore wind has by far the greatest potential. Clean coal is next largest but the lowering of efficiency by providing CCS pushes up costs. Third is nuclear power but this has poor economics unless subsidised by allowed base load running and has costly problems of nuclear waste, insurance and uranium fuel costs. Finally there are all the other generation methods put together but none has the capacity of the ‘big three’.

However, in the bigger picture the invisible unpaid for environmental costs and historic capital funding associated with existing coal, gas and nuclear have to be taken into account. These costs are significant, equal to up to 100% on top of the basic cost per KWhr of brown electricity.

Therefore any so called green ‘subsidy’ will be a net cost saving by the UK overall so we can have green electricity at no net extra cost. It is a recognition of the real cost of brown electricity.

  • Peter R Chambers (M), 66, Dartmouth Road, London

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.


Readers' comments (1)

  • Guided Busways: David Eve

    "When combined with an ‘off-bus’ payment system, this grants rapid passenger entry and exit" Many people do not like paying in advance for travel. The best - quickest system/provision for getting on and off buses (and with other advantages) was the "bus conductor". Buses have been made successively less user friendly and more like prisons in attempts to remove this really useful person. Now we are told all that grossly expensive hardware - concrete guideways etc - is yet another. Ouch.

    One of the best/simplest aids to rapid urban travel would be to ensure that all buses travelling the same route accept each others' tickets. Cost, nil except in administration. We might also get to see where there is an oversupply of buses and glaring gaps in their provision.

    So-called "..benefits of guided busways in terms of permanence and visibility of infrastructure" - appear to be rather intrusion, inflexible, restrictive, and costs to me. A costly white elephant.

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